what it means for you
By Gabrielle Stebbins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont
On April 1st, Governor Shumlin signed into law House Bill 702, an act related to net-metering. Net-metering is the program that allows any and every Vermonter to have the opportunity to generate their own electricity – be it solar electricity on their home or barn rooftops, a small wind turbine, a town dam, a “cow poop” or farm methane system, or even a micro-sized combined heat and power system. The program, which only allows for small-to-medium-sized systems of 500 kilowatts (kW) or less, was initially rolled out with a cap for each utility. The rationale for the cap was to ensure that energy planners and legislators could monitor the impacts of the program to our grid, our electricity rates and our overall energy consumption.
This past summer, four Vermont utilities (Vermont Electric Co-operative, Washington Electric Co-operative, Hardwick and Morrisville) reached their cap. This meant that roughly 20% of Vermont ratepayers could no longer net-meter until new legislation was passed. Our largest utility, Green Mountain Power, would likely have met the 4% cap within this year. Had your elected officials not acted swiftly, it is highly likely that no one in Vermont would have been able to net-meter at some point in 2014.
It seems an easy fix, no? Simply raise the cap – right? Wrong.
For over a century, our energy system has been designed to be unidirectional; we had a few, very large electricity plants that generated energy that was then transmitted via miles of wires to the end users: us. The system was designed to be one-way in virtually every regard: structurally, legally, technologically and financially. The transition from one-way energy service delivery where there are clear roles and boundaries, to thousands of mini-electricity producers on rooftops, along highways, in fields and rivers and in parking lots requires significant change.
Hence, the net-metering bill that was signed in a muddy flat of an organic farm in East Montpelier on the first sunny Tuesday of April consists of two parts.
Part One is designed to allow Vermonters and utilities to continue the net-metering program, as we have known it since the late 1990s. It allows for some interesting pilot projects and programs, such as allowing for larger net-metered systems (up to 5 megawatts) on municipally owned capped landfills.
It also allows Vermonters to “register” solar systems 1kW or less within ten days – barring no concerns from the utility. The normal process to connect to the grid, called a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) can take anywhere from one to several months. The concept behind a registration process is this: why is it easier to register a low mileage-per-gallon vehicle then it is to place solar on a rooftop? The 15kW number is also important because it allows for the opportunity for many families to eventually achieve “net zero” (or, energy neutrality). For example, if a resident “buttons up” his or her home, then adds a 15kW solar electric system, installs a heat pump, plugs in an electric car, and has a wood or pellet stove for additional heat, then that resident can get close to using very little petroleum product for driving, heating his or her home and powering up the appliances. It’s a revolutionary concept – one that is turning how we have done energy business for over one hundred years on its head.
Enter Part Two of the bill. Part Two requires the State, utilities, renewable energy stakeholders, energy policy experts (and probably anyone else who would like to participate in hundreds of hours of negotiation) to develop the next model of net-metering. Over the next two years during this workshop process, countless areas of energy policy are to be discussed: How should Renewable Energy Credits be treated? How should group net-metered systems be applied? What is the capacity of our current grid and utility infrastructure for moving away from the old-energy model towards a new-energy-model? What will the requirements be for connecting to the grid? As we move towards a system where many people own their own generating system, how do we equitably share the cost of distribution and transmission lines? How best does Vermont meet its energy goals and climate change statutory requirements?
In 1999, the dot-com business went through significant change. In the early 2000s, it was Wall Street’s turn. Health care is doing so now. It seems as though perhaps it is now energy’s turn at the table.
The conversation about how to transform how we make, use, and move energy – from electricity, to heating our homes, to transportation – is happening everywhere — in Vermont, our neighboring states and throughout the world. The catalysts for this discussion are plentiful. Every year, we have to work harder to obtain the traditional fuels that took millennia for the Earth to develop – be it digging deeper, or fracking further, or removing more of Appalachia for coal. We know that our reliance on traditional fuels has financial, labor, health, and climate consequences.
What shall the future of energy look like? Well, that’s why House Bill 702 matters. For now, your elected officials have ensured that you can self-generate. By 2017, we’ll have to have a Plan B.
House Bill 702 available here: leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/Passed/H-702.pdf